Consider it a triumph of the medium that soon we may not speak of “in-between-ness” or indeterminacy in cinema (let alone “slow” or “contemplative”), such attributes having become subsumed by and substantive of film itself, commonly deployed to a point of sufficiency. In which case a film such as Valérie Massadian’s Nana, recently awarded the Opera Prima award at the resurrected Festival del Film Locarno, might be received with the same fierce lucidity with which it was delivered, and rightfully so. Succinct and mysterious, taut and langourous, hermetic and expansive, Massadian’s pastoral fable strikes a memorably unnerving chord that only so much context can assuage. Unfolding predominantly in fixed takes around a country farmhouse in the director’s native Perche region, the film cedes its ostensibly observational approach to an unsuspecting, and rather hypnotic, centre of gravity: four year-old Nana (Kelyna Lecomte), whose fate is left agonizingly uncertain during an idyll of latent foreboding.
With a distancing mise en scène and a withholding narrative scheme, Nana might be opportunistically read as a provocation of sorts, an affront to certain orthodoxies of staging and routine viewing habits. Yet Massadian engages with her material in an utterly unaffected fashion that yields a becalmed but charged transparency, suggesting a wealth of drama within a paucity of incident. It is tempting to cite the director’s longstanding working relationship with photographer Nan Goldin as a point of aesthetic reference, although of little discernible influence beyond methodology. There are moments when the material world of Nana’s existence—a colourful quilt, toys on an upholstered chair, branches of a tree—is made nearly palpable: these are purely concentrated compositions that reflect Massadian’s work as a photographer. But it is through such materiality that a measure of time and sentience is made: the clarity of presentation suggests a strain of naturalism (associated with documentary) while resisting a hierarchy of visual importance (associated with fiction). From the perspective of Nana, which the film clearly privileges, the world is in a state of becoming, and many objects have equal claim to her attention. This visual and spatial “democracy” becomes increasingly effective as Nana is left to fend for herself in the absence of immediate care. Massadian’s very camerawork seems to be asking the question of whether the world is ever at the mercy of one’s fingertips, child or adult.